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North Kosovo still a "powder keg"-Serbian minister

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 28 Jul 2011 11:14 PM
Author: Reuters
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* UN council rejects Serb request for open Kosovo meeting

* North Kosovo calmer after two days of violence (Adds U.N. statement, diplomats, paragraphs 5, 8 and 10-11)

By Louis Charbonneau

UNITED NATIONS, July 28 (Reuters) - The situation in the Serb enclave of northern Kosovo remains tense after Pristina briefly seized two border posts there, igniting fears of new ethnic clashes, Serbia's foreign minister said on Thursday.

The border was calmer on Thursday after two days of violence in Kosovo's north in which one ethnic Albanian policeman was killed and a border crossing was set on fire by hard-line Serbian nationalists.

"It's definitely a powder keg given that there are roadblocks and there is a great deal of tension throughout the territory," Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told reporters on the sidelines of a closed meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Kosovo.

"We need to act swiftly as the international community to ensure there is no more violence," he said.

Jeremic, who had asked the 15-nation council to schedule an emergency meeting to discuss Pristina's move, said he wanted the council "to condemn the unilateral use of force." But U.N. diplomats said the council, which has long been divided over Kosovo, was unlikely to issue any such condemnation.

The troubles in Kosovo, which has a 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority, started after Pristina sent special police units on Monday to take control of northern border crossings and enforce a ban on imports from Serbia -- in retaliation for its block on Kosovo's exports in a dispute over customs rules.

The police retreated after the violence but Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci said on Thursday he would send them back to all border crossings. NATO troops, however, took control of the two posts and declared them a restricted military area. [ID:nLDE76R1R0]

NO SPECIAL KOSOVO MEETING

Jeremic met with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who voiced his concern about Kosovo and "stressed the importance of all actors refraining from any actions that could exacerbate the situation," Ban's press office said in a statement.

Belgrade had wanted the council to hold a second, public meeting on Kosovo on Friday, but Britain, the United States and other key powers that recognize Kosovo's 2008 secession from Serbia opposed what they fear would be another chance for Belgrade and its ally Russia to bash Pristina.

Russia had supported the Serbian request, diplomats said.

The council, envoys said, decided against a special Kosovo meeting but agreed Jeremic should meet with the current council president, German Ambassador Peter Wittig. They also plan to move forward a regular meeting on Kosovo scheduled for August.

Jeremic said Kosovo's operation to retake the border posts was a "totally unprovoked use of force (that) caused havoc inside the Serbian-majority territories in the north."

He added that he hoped the two sides would return to the negotiating table and avoid using military force to end any impasses that arise in bilateral talks aimed at reducing tensions between Belgrade and Pristina.

The United States and European Union on Tuesday criticized the border operation, saying Pristina should have consulted its Western backers, who have 6,000 troops on the ground to keep the peace 12 years after a NATO bombing campaign drove Serbian forces out of Kosovo and ended Belgrade's control of it.

Kosovo declared independence in February 2008 in a move not recognized by Serbia and the 60,000 Serbs who live in northern Kosovo and consider Belgrade their capital. A further 40,000 Serbs live in enclaves in the rest of Kosovo.

Serbs cherish Kosovo as the historic heartland of their Orthodox Christianity and most are bitterly opposed to its independence. (Editing by Peter Cooney)

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